The importance of early literacy - First 5 Forever

15 January 2017

Did you know that up to 90 per cent of a child’s brain development happens in the first five years? In fact, your baby or preschooler forms approximately 700 new neural connections every second!

Children are born ready to learn and research shows that the first five years of their lives are critical for establishing life-long learning capabilities. However, the Australian Early Development Census data for 2015 showed that 26.1 per cent of Queensland children are developmentally vulnerable, or are at risk in one or more developmental criteria—including language and cognitive skills—and Queensland ranked a worrying last, behind all other states. On a global scale, Australia ranked just 21st against 45 developed countries in reading at Grade 4.

Up to 90 per cent of children with language problems at age five have poor literacy outcomes 10 years later, and a child’s success at age 10 can be linked to the amount of conversation they hear in their first three years of life. So what can we do to reverse these numbers and ensure our own children have the best possible opportunities in life?

Parents are important!

From the moment a child is born, every time they listen, speak, read or write they grow and develop. Because young children spend the majority of their first five years with their parents and these early years are when their essential literacy skills are formed, parents and caregivers play a hugely important role in supporting a child’s early literacy development.

Babies and children learn best by listening and interacting with you, their primary caregiver, so make talking, reading and singing with your child part of your daily routine. Karen Gawen, Young People’s Services Supervisor from Sunshine Coast Council says, “It’s really easy to do in everyday situations and most parents won’t even realise the impact all these little things are making on their baby/child. Talking about what you are doing when you are out and about in the car, at the supermarket, doing housework or playing is really important. The more words a baby/toddler hears, the easier it is for them to build up their vocabulary, understand what’s happening around them, put the words into context and communicate back.”

By spending time with your child and giving them lots of encouragement, you will give them the confidence to try new things and help them build the foundations needed for future learning.

“Singing songs or nursery rhymes, sharing books, playing games like eye spy or hand action rhymes are all fun ways for babies and toddlers to learn. Ultimately this awareness and development of vocabulary make learning to read so much easier when they go to school.”

Find local support at your local library

To support parents in this literacy development, Queensland State Government has funded the First 5 Forever program. Available at libraries across Queensland, First 5 Forever is a universal family literacy program aimed at supporting stronger language and literacy environments for young children from 0–5 years and their families. The program provides a huge range of free resources across the region including Rhymetime and Storytime sessions, and advice on how to bring early literacy into everyday life. As well as events at the libraries, the program is taking literacy to the community with various Story Time sessions in parks and hubs such as Sunshine plaza.

“During these activities we are finding every parent just want what’s best for their child but sometimes it can be a bit daunting,” says Karen Gawen. “By showing them all the free services and resources the library can offer, running some Story Time sessions and inviting the parents and their children to actively play with games and puzzles together at these outreach events, parents are understanding early literacy is really just about talking, reading, singing and playing with their child every day, anywhere.”

The libraries are designing more programs to implement over the next to years to aid the local region even further. “It really does take a village to raise a child so we are looking at programs to involve family members, grandparents and the whole community.”

Simple literacy ideas…

… for babies:

  • Babies learn new words best through everyday activities. Talk with your baby about what he sees and hears every day.
  • Share stories every day, it’s OK to read slowly, skip pages, or just talk about the pictures.
  • A baby’s best toy is you. Let your baby see your face when talking and playing by crouching down or lifting them up.
  • Give your baby chance to communicate and learn the pattern of conversation, pause to allow them time to respond then answer their sounds and actions by adding in new words.
  • Visit your local public library and enjoy a free Rhymetime session.

… for toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Children learn best from talking playing, and singing with you, and this can happen any place and any time.
  • Whenever you are together, talk about what you’re doing, what you can see, and what interests your child.
  • Read stories with your child. If a word is unfamiliar, don’t change it or skip it. Instead, show your child a picture, the real object, or an action that lets the child know what the word means.
  • Point out any letters or words you see. Talk about street signs, posters or labels when shopping, and show children recipes and instructions as you follow them together.
  • Visit your local public library and enjoy a free Storytime session.

To find out more, simply head down to your local library or visit

Written by

Kids on the Coast/Kids in the City

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